A Unique Medium
The Flip Side
by Gabe Bokor
While the Web offers some unique opportunities to both those who surf it in search of information and those who use it as an inexpensive worldwide medium to spread their particular message, it also poses some unique challenges. When you print a paper publication, all of its copies are identical, except maybe some minor variations due to the tolerances of the printing process. A Web page doesnt reach its readers directly, but through their computer systems, monitors, and browsers. Therefore the appearance of a Web page depends on the combination of all the hardware and software, plus the users individual settings, which stand between the HTML code created by the Webmaster and the reader.
Example: If youre using a browser (Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer) version 2.0, both the title and the text of this article will appear to you in the browsers default typestyle (usually Times Roman). Those using version 3.0 see the title in Arial/Helvetica and the text in Times Roman. With a version 4.0 browser, the text appears in Palatino or Garamond. The reason for this is that Netscape and Internet Explorer began to support the HTML codes for typeface change starting with Version 3.0 and Cascading Style Sheets (which specify Palatino or Garamond as the text style for this issue of the Journal) starting with Version 4.0.
These differences often mean more than simple esthetics; for example, some of Dr. Claffs articles on Organic Chemical Nomenclature use Greek letters, which do not appear correctly with older browsers. The legibility of text may be impaired by excessively small type size; tables and forms may become misaligned with excessively large type or low screen resolution.
Webmasters are aware of these problems and test their pages with different browsers and often with different computer systems. They also attempt to balance the use of Web wizardry against compatibility with older browsers and speed of loading. It is, however, impossible to foresee all the possible combinations of hardware, software, and individual settings, so Web surfers feedback is invaluable in spotting possible problems. Sometimes the solution to a complaint may be a simple change of user settings, such as font size, language encoding, or monitor resolution. Other times browser update is in order. In exceptional cases, if a large number of readers complain about a feature, the Webmaster may have to recode the page or even the entire issue.
However, just as we no longer do translations on a typewriter, we cannot support some very old (in computer terms) systems. Thus, some features of the Journal are not supported by browsers Version 2.0 or older (which, according to our Survey, very few readers use anyway), and some niceties may even be lost with Version 3.0.
With the most recent version 4.0 of the encoding language HTML, the codes of some non-ASCII characters have been changed, and these new codes are obviously not supported by older browsers. Fortunately, the old codes, used since Issue #1 of the Journal, still appear correctly with Version-4.0 browsers, but there is no assurance that this will still be the case with the next generation of Netscape and IE.
Please let us know if you encounter any difficulty in reading the Journal. We may be able to suggest a simple solution to correct the problem or take your feedback into consideration in planning future issues. In any case, unless we hear from you, we may not be aware that anything is amiss.
We want to give you a Journal that is not only interesting and informative, but also easy to read, pleasant to look at and has all the relevant information clearly displayed and easily accessible. Your feedback will help us achieve this goal.